My birthday is this week, and as you might’ve guessed from the title of this piece, I’m turning forty-four. I spent the weekend feeling old and fat and slow, and I’m not gonne lie, I was legitimately upset about it. I don’t know if it got quite bad enough to be called a “depressive episode”—I just learned that term from Twitter and have no idea what its technical definition is—but I was really blue most of the weekend and maybe a little more sullen than usual, so much so that I know that it bothered my wife quite a bit.
I don’t know what to tell you. I feel like I’m struggling with this whole “mid-life” thing, and you can say whatever you want to about it. I’ll just say that it’s true.
|Wearing my birthday present.|
So much of my life has been justified by athletics. Not because I was the greatest but because I’ve always felt like I’ve been my best self through sport. That’s mostly been through swimming, the only times I’ve ever felt “graceful”, but even running, where I am at best mediocre, or on the bike, I feel like I’m generally the best version of myself in those moments, physically. When I was in high school and miserable because we’d just moved again or maybe just because high school can be such a mundanely miserable experience regardless, I would often sit and daydream about training, of being my best self in the pool because I knew that it was only through swimming that I’d find my best opportunities to improve my life. Likewise, during Beast Barracks and the first semester of my plebe year at West Point, I often felt like a complete fuck-up in the ways of the Army. But I ran well when I got the chance, and I was reasonably comfortable humping a rucksack. I swam well with my teammates and wound up putting together one of the best races of my entire life at the Army-Navy meet my plebe year. Even later, after I’d put in my papers as a captain in Korea, I still trained every day with my buddy Joe as he was preparing for the Special Forces Selection Assessment course. Running the rice paddy trails of Munson, South Korea, with Joe was probably the best part of being overseas. And when my dad died…
I’m honestly not sure how I’d have survived that had I not discovered triathlon at about that same time.
|Me and Joe as captains in 4-7 Cav, Munson, ROK.|
We’ve been schlepping the kids around all over creation, and I helped launch the boats at the boat club last weekend. I’ve seen both girls perform at least one musical concert at school, and they did their gymnastics show over the weekend. That stuff is great. However, there hasn’t been much time for physical training, and even when I’ve managed to get out there, it’s all I can do just to maintain a steady, even pace over time. I can do slow and steady and even, but nothing I do has any pop to it, and I’m not sure what I’m even accomplishing out there.
With time, this feeling has started to bleed over into my everyday life.
When my father was my age, he was on the brink of madness, though you wouldn’t have seen it at the time. At forty-four, he was still at the height of his powers—or very nearly so. He was still a colonel in the Marines, though by then he was actively contemplating retirement. He looked like he had a long life ahead of him.
|My dad was 45 when we took this picture. I was 20.|
He died of alcohol poisoning, chronic and acute, just fifteen years later. This came after a long decade of slowly fading away. By the time he died, Dad was alone. He’d pushed everyone away. I don’t know if that was the very saddest part of it, but it was certainly one of the hardest parts to watch.
I’m not under the impression that I’ve got a mere fifteen years remaining. However, I will admit that I’m coming to a point where I’m not sure what right looks like for a man my age. For a long time now, I’ve had my dad’s example to follow. Despite his end, he was a good husband and a good father and a successful man. He was a stern taskmaster, but he also walked the walk. He lived a disciplined life, and he taught me to do the same. In this, he prepared me for a world that’s not as far removed from the jungles as we in civilized America generally like to believe. But dad’s been dead for ten years now, and I’m coming to the point where his example is no longer one that I can follow.
|As a high school swimmer, I had|
legitimately rock hard abs.
It strikes me that I need to find a way to make myself a little happier. It’s good to matter and to work and to be involved in one’s community. But I also feel like I’ve been running frantically for weeks on end without much in the way of time to find peace or peace-of-mind, and that’s not my favorite way to live. If I have one secret, it’s that I’ve always been pretty good at taking the little breaks that keep me operating at something like peak efficiency. That’s been a differentiator more times than not. Now though, I feel scattered and out-of-control, insufficiently focused save for in the office, and none of that has me acting like my best self. I’m struggling with insomnia, and I can’t even get enough consistency day-to-day to get into the routines that would allow me to break the cycle.
All of this reminds me a bit of what it was like to leave the Army, of the challenges associated with finding new ways to live and to be happy, and then as now, I wasn’t sure what right looked like. I know that I’ll find my way in time, but for now I just feel unsettled, uncertain, and unsatisfied.
We went to Bridgeport’s Adventure Park last night with the kids from my daughter Emma’s class at school, and though I didn’t push myself particularly hard, I still enjoyed being up in the trees with the kids. The Adventure Park is a high ropes confidence course organized along the lines of a ski resort, with greens, blues, black diamonds, etc. I stayed mostly to the blues, but I felt good up there, and I didn’t have any trouble keeping up with the kids. The experience made me feel a little less like the fat useless poof I’d been most of the weekend, but it was also tinged with more than a little nostalgia from confidence courses I did back in the Army, and I have to admit that I want a little less nostalgia, except maybe during Army football games.
|At a recent Bridgeport Bluefish game.|
I could use a little fun.